Three years ago, give or take a day or two, I had to be off work for about a month with crippling anxiety and depression. I've written about it on occasion before, but it's worth remembering it, thinking about it again, and seeing it through the lens of life subsequently. Some folk are what we might call mental health deniers, in that they question the existence of mental health problems as something that a person might need help with. I might even have been in that category myself, at least as a younger person. I didn't recognise them in myself as a teenager and a young adult (though, undoubtedly, they were there, on and off, and might have been taken seriously if I had not hidden them). I didn't have any issues with my mental health as a young adult, and I suppose I forgot what it felt like to not look forward to anything, or to fail to take any enjoyment out of even the enjoyable stuff. So around three years ago, as a relatively grown-up person, to find that my mind had deteriorated to the point where it didn't function properly was as surprising as it was debilitating.
I have thanked, tried to thank, and perhaps failed to thank a number of people who, at the time and subsequently, have helped, joining me on that journey whether for a day or two or for the duration. So, if you are among that number, thanks again. It can be difficult to persist in trying to help someone when their mind is ill, because it can often seem so futile. But my observation in my own case and others is that even so, it is worth it. Kindness can be really tough, both on the person being kind, and the person who is supposed to benefit. Several people I have spoken to would confirm that the process of trying to get back to mental health is often punishing, painful, shot through with backwards and false steps, and even when going well, hard bloody work. And as the outsider looking in, you occasionally end up taking a blow or two for your troubles. So if you've taken one for/from me, sorry!
One curious aspect of my experience has been how I have become susceptible to a sort of flood of crying, prompted by anything from a line in a song to a news story, where previously I would have dismissed the same thing as sentimental, or perhaps steeled myself against it and carried on with the classic British stiff upper lip. Crying is an odd thing, because it can be so cathartic (and I mean that to carry its 'cleansing' sense), but it is also so thoroughly unhelpful when trying to make a point. It's something that old-fashioned sexism would probably say isn't right in a man. I am hopeful that the persistence of those adverts on facebook, the shares of messages of support, the general trend towards recognising mental health as just as significant as physical health, that all of these factors combine to make the world a better place to get better.
Better? It's a question asked at workplaces whenever someone has been off and returns, but it disguises a distinction. Generally when I go back after illness I am at best improved, rather than returned to full health. So I am improved, certainly. Over three years, you learn how to lessen the impact of the things that hurt. What I know now that I didn't before I got ill is that it is possible for things to hurt - desperately in some cases - and that being better doesn't necessarily mean the absence of those things.
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought